• School and Prevention Education Are Back in Session

    Posted 9/5/2018 by Angelo M. Valente

    It’s hard to believe that summer has once again flown by, but it’s exciting to think about the new opportunities and special moments that lie ahead in the upcoming school year.


    Students will be learning new things, making new friends and continuing to grow, and it’s important that their education includes prevention and living a healthy lifestyle free of drugs.


    A recent study found that teenagers who smoke and drink have visible damage to their arteries by the age of 17. That is just one of the many physical and emotional effects of drug and alcohol use on youth, making it crucial that children are equipped with this prevention education from an early age.


    The Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey offers several programs that can help.


    PDFNJ is currently inviting fourth grade students to submit artwork for the 2018-19 Fun Things To Do Instead of Drugs Folder contest. Several thousand students entered last year’s Fourth Grade Folder Contest, submitting artistic prevention messages that displayed their creativity. The two winners chosen this past spring will have their work displayed on folders being distributed to fourth grade classes throughout the state for the 2018-19 school year. A limited number of folders are still available. Click HERE to request folders for your students.


    PDFNJ offers another program for younger students, the Third Grade Contract for a Healthy Life. These activity books stress the importance of drug-free and healthy living. To request activity books for your students, click HERE.


    Middle school students are invited to create a script for a 30-second public service announcement with a peer-to-peer substance abuse prevention message. The winning script will be filmed, starring the students who wrote it at their school. More details will be available this fall.


    PDFNJ’s efforts in schools would not be complete without the New Jersey Shout Down Drugs high school music competition. For the past 14 years, talented students from all over New Jersey have written original songs focusing on prevention, culminating in the annual Prevention Concert. At the end of a night filled with great performances and inspiring messages, three winners are chosen to continue to spread their message in performances during the following year. Click HERE for more information on the program.


    Although many of the adults reading this have been out of school for a long time, it is vital that parents and guardians stay informed on prevention.


    Sign up today for the 15 Minute Child Break and the 5th Grade Parent Alert. Both are aimed at parents, providing them vital facts and resources for helping them to keep their children healthy and drug-free.


    As the opioid misuse and abuse epidemic continues to impact our state, I also encourage students, parents, school officials and any other citizen to join the efforts to tackle the opioid epidemic on Knock Out Opioid Abuse Day on October 6.


    I wish you all a great school year!

  • Vigils to Honor Overdose Victims on International Overdose Awareness Day

    Posted 8/29/2018 by Angelo M. Valente

    Friday marks an important day for people throughout the world who have lost a family member, friend or other loved one to a drug overdose. August 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day, a time to remember those who have died far too soon and support those suffering from the grief of losing a loved one. The event also aims to reduce the stigma associated with addiction and overdose deaths. Several vigils will be held throughout New Jersey, including one organized by the Burlington County Coalition, king’s Crusade, NJTIP and Oxford Houses of New Jersey from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday at the Burlington County Amphitheater in Westampton.


    This week, I invite Anne Gutos, co-founder of King’s Crusade, to write about the importance of vigils remembering the victims of overdoses. During the past year, King’s Crusade has emerged as a tremendous partner of the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey. The organization was an active participant in the Burlington County Knock Out Opioid Abuse Town Hall held last October and a sponsor of this year’s Third Annual Breakfast for Families and Communities Impacted by Opioid Abuse held in February in Mount Laurel. Anne, her sister, Suzanne, and her mother, Judy, have also contributed guest blogs in the past, informing readers on the great work King’s Crusade is doing to help those in recovery. I am grateful that the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey will be a part of Friday night’s vigil, and I am looking forward to continued collaboration with King’s Crusade to help fight the opioid epidemic.


    By Anne Gutos

    Throughout my life I have seen many vigils on the news when people have lost someone through some sort of senseless crime or tragedy. From a distance they have always seemed to help those who are still living by gathering in a ritualistic way for remembrance through prayer and solidarity. I actually was always grateful that I never have had to experience one. That is until October 29, 2016, when my brother tragically died from a heroin/fentanyl overdose. My world collapsed and life closed in on me. Life would be not be the same for me ever again.


    The only recourse I felt I had was to fight back and help others from the same fate my family had suffered. It wasn’t long after my brother, King W. Shaffer Jr.’s death that my mother, Judy, and my sister, Suzanne, and I started King’s Crusade. King’s Crusade is nonprofit with the mission to rid the stigma of the disease of addiction and help families and those struggling with addiction find resources and help support the needs of those in recovery. Since we immersed in our journey, the death toll has continued to climb at an incomprehensible rate. The nation is now losing 179 people a day to overdose. In 2017 our nation had 72,000 deaths from drug overdose. In New Jersey alone, the opioid overdose reversal antidote naloxone has been deployed approximately 20,000 or more times since 2014. Rescuers armed with naloxone have saved many fortunate people from becoming what signifies a burning candle at a vigil. I can’t grasp how many more candles would be burning without naloxone.

  • Recommendations for Enhancement of Recovery Support Services in Addressing Opioid Use Disorders in NJ

    Posted 8/22/2018 by Angelo M. Valente

    This week, I welcome Morgan Thompson of Prevention Links to deliver a guest blog on the state of recovery support services in New Jersey. Prevention Links has been a leader in the state, not only in prevention, but also in recovery. The organization provides services such as recovery planning and family support, and it opened and runs the Raymond Lesniak Experience, Strength and Hope Recovery High School.


    By Morgan Thompson, Prevention Links


    Recommendations for Enhancement of Recovery Support Services in Addressing Opioid Use Disorders (OUDs) in New Jersey

    The following evidence-based recovery support services are already being implemented to some extent in the state of New Jersey, but should be enhanced to serve all New Jersey residents with OUDs. In 2016, 53,511 unduplicated individuals were admitted for substance use treatment in New Jersey. In half of those cases, heroin or other opioids were the primary drug. All of these services can be used in conjunction with medications for OUDs.


    • Recovery community centers: New Jersey currently funds two recovery community centers — in Passaic and Camden counties. These facilities serve as safe spaces for mutual aid meetings, recovery-friendly social and recreational activities, case management, peer services and other important recovery supports. These centers create a centralized hub in each community through which many of the support services can be driven, and through which data and outcomes can be gathered, analyzed and discussed in a coordinated fashion, much like the statewide hospital-based Opioid Overdose Recovery Program initiative. Recommendation: Make funding available for recovery community centers in 21 counties. Estimated cost $7,350,000 (including current $700,000).


    • Peer services: Currently, peer mentors or recovery coaches are being utilized in the state primarily at the pre-treatment and engagement end of the continuum. However, peers are instrumental throughout the OUD continuum of care. In particular, having access to a peer mentor or recovery coach in the first 12 to 24 months of recovery can reduce the risk of reoccurrence and the need for subsequent treatment episodes. Recommendation: Expand the Support Team for Addiction Recovery (STAR) Program to serve all 21 counties. Estimated cost $7,350,000 (including current $3,850,000).

  • DEA Fights Opioid Crisis in New Jersey Through 360 Strategy

    Posted 8/15/2018 by Angelo M. Valente

    This week, I welcome Special Agent Timothy McMahon of the Drug Enforcement Administration – New Jersey Division to the blog to discuss DEA 360 Strategy.


    This program has aimed to address the opioid epidemic in cities throughout the country by making an impact at the local level. DEA 360 has been launched in multiple New Jersey locations and applies a comprehensive approach for fighting this urgent crisis.


    By Special Agent Timothy McMahon

    The Drug Enforcement Administration has responded to the current heroin and prescription opioid pill crisis with the deployment of DEA’s 360 Strategy. Since 2016 DEA Headquarters has selected several cities a year to initiate the 360 Strategy. In 2018, the southern New Jersey region and Newark have been selected. DEA 360 in southern New Jersey started in January and Newark in June. The 360 Strategy takes an innovative three-pronged approach to fighting drug trafficking and stemming abuse:


    • Enforcement – This aspect of the strategy involves keeping drugs out of the community by reducing the drug supply and holding those accountable who are distributing drugs to those struggling with addiction, while also coordinating efforts against drug traffickers and those committing violent crime in our communities.

    • Diversion Control  - This part of the plan holds those accountable within the medical community who are overprescribing and operating outside the scope of practice and law. This process requires long-term engagement with pharmaceutical drug manufacturers, wholesalers, pharmacies and practitioners.

    • Community Outreach  - Pursuing a robust prevention and outreach effort at the community level is vital to addressing this epidemic. By partnering with grassroots initiatives and coalitions as well as with corporate and faith-based partners, medical professionals, government and community organizations, we plan to proactively promote and establish sustainable programs to address the current crisis of heroin/opioid drug overdoses in our communities.

  • New Jersey High Schools Now Required to Carry Naloxone

    Posted 8/8/2018 by Angelo M. Valente

    In June, the New Jersey State Legislature passed a law that will require high schools to maintain a supply of the opioid antidote, naloxone.


    This is a positive step in fighting the opioid crisis, both in preparing schools to prevent a tragedy and by acknowledging an understanding of the widespread devastation the opioid epidemic has caused, especially among our state’s youth.


    The law will require high schools to carry naloxone and make it accessible during school hours and school functions, develop a policy for administering the antidote, and allow the school nurse and other trained employees to use the antidote in the event of an overdose.


    The thought of high school students overdosing at school is unthinkable, and one that many parents and communities might not be willing to accept as a viable threat, but the reality is that no community is immune to the opioid crisis. Overdoses have occurred in many public venues in recent years, including several at schools throughout the nation.


    By having naloxone on the premises and a school nurse or other faculty member trained to administer it, there is a greater chance that lives can be saved and that these students could go on to receive the treatment and help they need.

  • Guest Blog: NJ Family and Patient Notification Law Featured in Full Frame Episode

    Posted 8/1/2018 by Angelo M. Valente

    This week, I turn the blog over to New Jersey resident Don Riebel, whose son, Colin, died of a heroin overdose at age 22 in 2013. Don and his wife, Bobbie Lynn are featured, along with Dr. Andrew Kolodny, in an episode of Full Frame Close Up: Prescribing Pain, that was released by CGTN America this week talking about Colin’s story and the New Jersey legislation that they believe could have saved their son’s life.


    Colin first became addicted to prescription opioids after suffering multiple sports injuries in high school and undergoing surgeries on his shoulder and knees. Four years after Colin’s death, in February 2017, New Jersey passed A3/S3 that requires prescribers to inform patients or patients’ parents and guardians about the addictive qualities of the opioids they are prescribed and possible alternative treatments that exist before prescribing. I encourage you to view Full Frame Close Up: Prescribing Pain and this powerful first-hand account.


    By Don Riebel

    On Nov. 23, 2013, I found my son in his bed not breathing. I immediately began giving him CPR until the paramedics arrived only to be told that they could not revive him. He was gone.


    Until that fateful day, Colin had refrained from drug use for two months after being released from rehab 48 hours prior. Since age 15, Colin a former community/high school athlete struggled with opioid addiction. His love of sports would play the starring role in his untimely death.


    Colin blew his rotator cuff playing baseball his freshmen year in high school, which resulted in surgery and a recuperation period that included a regimen of Percocet. During his sophomore year in high school, Colin participated in the sport he loved the most: football. In a span of three years, he tore his ACL three times, and each injury required surgery, bone grafting, physical therapy and pain management.


    Pain management was a continuous regimen of Percocet. It wasn't until Colin came to us and admitted to having a problem that we realized he needed help. His desire for that euphoric effect outweighed his love of sports and slowly began to take control of his everyday life.


    The signs were not there in the beginning. Colin didn't lose his charming demeanor, sense of humor and overall kindness for which he was known. It was first recommended to us that Colin would need outpatient rehab, which he consistently attended for about six months. Outpatient rehab turned into inpatient rehab, and after several attempts at remaining abstinent — along with more stints in rehab — his opioid addiction eventuality transitioned into heroin use. From there, he entered a downward spiral that no one saw coming.


    Heroin took my son’s life at age 22. It took his dreams and our dreams that one day he would be in recovery and able to tell his story in his own words. This epidemic has stolen too many lives and has forced parents to bury their children. A child’s death is life out of order.


    Addiction affects the whole family and through that experience our intent is help educate parents so no other parent feels this pain. If only I, as a parent, had known the dangers, the outcome would have certainly been much different. We have the responsibility to advocate for our children by making sure that we are present and participating in our child’s medical treatment. Ask questions and, most importantly, question your provider about prescriptions and whether or not they can become addictive. Just do not accept that the only way to effectively manage your child’s pain is through these types of drugs. Ask for alternatives.

  • Don’t Get Hooked on Drugs Fishing Tournament Begins Friday

    Posted 7/25/2018 by Angelo M. Valente

    Summer vacation is about halfway done, but there’s still plenty of time for families to create some fantastic memories and no better way to do it than by participating in the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey’s fourth annual Don’t Get Hooked on Drugs Online NJ Family Fishing Tournament.


    The contest, which will begin Friday, July 27, and run through August 5, requires parents and guardians to submit photos of their children fishing as a way to encourage more family bonding and conversation. Children who communicate regularly with their parents about their daily activities are 67 percent less likely to be involved in substance use than children who have little or no communication, according to research conducted by the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey.


    To participate in the contest, entrants must be 18 years old or younger, New Jersey residents, and be accompanied by a parent or guardian while fishing. Participants then have to snap a photo of their family enjoying a fishing trip and post it with the hashtag #drugfreenj on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. The photo must include the youth participant and a parent or guardian. Winners will be selected at random on August 7 to receive up to $600 in cash prizes.


    Pictures can be posted by liking PDFNJ’s Facebook page at PartnershipForADrugFreeNewJersey or by following PDFNJ on Twitter (@drugfreenj) and Instagram (@drugfreenj).


    This is one of the most exciting events for PDFNJ and a reminder that prevention starts at home. Take advantage of the warm weather and head to the nearest lake, river or ocean to share a memorable family moment.


    Also, it is important to stay educated on the opioid epidemic and other issues that can impact your children. Please tune in to NJTV at 7 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. Monday, July 30, or Thirteen/WNET at 12:30 a.m. Tuesday, July 31, to watch me discuss the opioid crisis on “One-on-One with Steve Adubato.” 

  • Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey Reports Decreases in Opioid Prescriptions

    Posted 7/18/2018 by Angelo M. Valente

    The opioid epidemic continues to claim the lives of New Jersey residents at a tragic rate, but there are signs of improvement in addressing the crisis that could result in many lives being saved in the coming years.


    Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, the state’s largest health insurance carrier, reported a 30 percent decrease in the total number of opioid prescriptions filled for commercial policy holders from 2013 to 2017. Horizon also saw significant decreases for Medicare clients (14 percent) and Medicaid clients (20 percent) during that time.


    The number of Horizon commercial members who filled at least one opioid prescription dropped from 18 percent in 2013 to 13 percent in 2017, a 28 percent decrease.


    Horizon also reported that 62 percent of people taking opioids used them for seven days or fewer, up 7 percent from 2013. Reducing the length of use of opioids is vitally important, because people who use opioids for eight days or more are 13.5 percent more likely to be addicted a year later, according to a CDC study.


    All of these stats point to one conclusion: New Jersey residents as a whole are being exposed to fewer opioids and for shorter periods of time. Decreasing the usage of prescription opioids will help prevent more people from developing an addiction in the future.


    In 2017, the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey along with Horizon Foundation for New Jersey launched a series of town halls to educate New Jersey residents on the opioid crisis. The award-winning Knock Out Opioid Abuse Town Hall Series featuring town halls for all 21 counties in the state brought together more than 13,000 New Jersey residents in every county and provided them with a comprehensive understanding of the causes and effects of the opioid epidemic. The events included participation from county prosecutors, state legislators, doctors and professionals from the prevention, treatment and recovery fields.


    We are proud to partner with Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey in addressing the opioid epidemic in this state and look forward to our continued collaborations and successes.

  • Data: Legalization of Marijuana Linked to Increased Youth Exposure to Drug

    Posted 7/11/2018 by Angelo M. Valente

    As New Jersey lawmakers discuss the legalization of marijuana, it is important to evaluate the impact on the residents of states that have legalized marijuana.


    New data released in Washington State shows that legalization there has led to a large increase in the number of youth marijuana poisonings.


    In 2017, the number of incidents reported to the Washington State Poison Center increased by nearly 30 percent to an all-time high of 378. Reporting these incidents is voluntary, and the data likely underrepresents the true total throughout the state.


    Almost one-third of the total exposures reported to the poison center last year were for children ages 5 or younger. Exposure within that age group increased by nearly 58 percent from 2016.


    Part of the reason for this increase has been the emergence of THC edibles, such as gummies and cookies, being sold since the legalization and commercialization of marijuana. Marijuana edibles were involved in nearly half of the reported exposure that occurred in 2017.


    While marijuana possession is still illegal for people younger than 21 in states that have legalized marijuana, it is clear that legalization has made it more likely for children to access the drug. It is crucial that New Jersey leaders take into consideration how marijuana is impacting other states and how it would impact New Jersey residents, young and old alike.   

  • Stay Safe This Summer

    Posted 7/4/2018 by Angelo M. Valente

    On behalf of the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey, I hope you enjoyed a safe and fun Fourth of July. With summer finally here, it’s exciting to think about all the upcoming opportunities for fun moments and memories.


    However, for many people, summer also includes an increase in the number of social events that involve alcohol. It is vital that adults take the proper steps to ensure that drinking doesn’t lead to tragedy. These precautions include designating a driver or simply choosing not to drink.


    In 2016, the most recent year with complete data, drunk driving caused 10,497 fatalities on roads in the United States, an increase of 1.7 percent from the previous year.


    Water activities that are popular during the summer become much more dangerous when alcohol is involved. Research shows that up to 70 percent of all water recreation deaths of teens and adults involve the use of alcohol.


    In 2016, alcohol use was the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents. In instances where the primary cause of an accident was known, alcohol was listed as the leading factor in 15 percent of deaths.


    These deaths were entirely preventable, yet they devastated the lives of countless friends and family members across the country. Don’t let tragedy be a part of your summer. Have fun, be responsible and stay safe.

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